Trained dogs can do a lot of things – they can locate victims at disaster sites, sniff out drugs or explosives, and subdue criminals. One thing that they can’t do in all situations, however, is hear commands made by their handlers. That’s why scientists at Alabama’s Auburn University have created a control system to guide them.

Developed by mechanical engineers Jeff Miller and David Bevly, the setup consists of a microprocessor, wireless radio, GPS receiver, and an attitude and heading reference system – all of which are mounted on a pack worn by the dog. It also contains a command module that delivers both vibrational and audio tone cues, to which the dog has previously been trained to respond.

In tests conducted in structured and unstructured environments, dogs using the system reportedly showed an overall obedience accuracy rate of nearly 87 percent.

The system operates autonomously, guiding dogs to pre-established GPS waypoints – although it could presumably also be used to relay commands sent by a human user in real time. It’s intended for use in situations in which a dog’s handler is unable to physically accompany the animal, or where loud noises make it impossible for the dog to hear verbal commands.

Down the road, Miller and Bevly hope that the technology could also be used to direct human first responders in hazardous environments, or to guide the visually impaired.

For situations in which a dog (or person) is just too big, other recent projects have successfully steered turtles and cockroaches by remote control.

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